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'I was the Dolly Doctor for 23 years. I got more than 30,000 letters. I read every single one.'

Dolly Doctor has been around a long time. It was an integral part of Dolly magazine when it launched in late 1970 and has never floundered.

The Q&A section was always the backbone of Dolly Doctor, while the section itself went through various incarnations, including growing in size and number of feature articles, being a sealed section, then not again.

I’ve been the medical writer of Dolly Doctor Q&A for 23 years, half the magazine’s life and can vouch for the authenticity of the questions (the magazine did not make them up contrary to popular belief).

I also knew the responsibility felt by all the editors I met towards providing readers with credible, sound advice from genuine health professionals. Clinical psychologists and medical specialists and health educators have also contributed to articles and to Q&A columns over the time that I have.

Dr Melissa Kang is a GP, academic and advocate. (Image supplied.)

When I started writing the column, girls wrote handwritten letters and posted them in, several hundred a year in the early to mid-1990s.

In the mid-2000s, the column received about 30,000 emails a year. I know this because I asked the editors of the day if I could read them all. It took many hours but gave me privileged insights into the breadth of health and relationship concerns.

In sharing these insights over the years I hope to have had some impact on the way health professionals and teachers understand adolescent girls, and to stop pathologising sexuality and other aspects of healthy development. I only ever answered up to 10 questions a month, except for the years when we also included up to five questions from boys a month – an initiative I was involved with and remain proud of.

I chose to remain semi-anonymous throughout my tenure as the Dolly Doctor – my patients never knew (unless they found out from others, which some did), many of my colleagues never knew. So it has been a remarkable thing to witness the outpouring of shock, grief, nostalgia and concern about the implications that the end of the print magazine will have on future generations of young women, especially in relation to Dolly Doctor.

Scroll through our favourite Dolly covers. (Post continues after gallery.) 

It represents for those of us who read it (as I did, in the mid to late 1970s) a repository for health advice that’s reliable and reassuring, but the attachment many of us feel is deeper than that.

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It held up a mirror to our own teenage souls, our everyday struggles to adjust to changing bodies, new and exciting but daunting feelings, the highs and lows of friendships and the dance many teenagers do with parents as they negotiate boundaries, independence and autonomy.

It’s a time of life most of us would not want to return to, but one we often remember as the most intense.

Dolly Doctor reminded us of our younger selves, because the girls who wrote in for the generations after ours, spoke to universal truths about our inner lives. Even if we didn’t relate to specific health questions, we could relate to the angst.

It was the questions of the readers - their voices - that mattered.

What will happen then, for teenage girls after Dolly Doctor disappears?

Well, of course, they will carry on as always, being curious, worried, simultaneously desperate and hopeful.

Some will have significant health, relationship and life issues and need guidance and care, others will seek reassurance that all is well. The information they need is out there in the world, including a world without Dolly magazine.

Listen: Mia Freedman spoke with former Dolly editor Lisa Wilkinson for No Filter. (Post continues...)

Teenage girls today don’t read Dolly Doctor in print much anyway. They’re busy finding solutions, somewhere in the myriad of websites and apps and from the same relationships with real people and trusted adults that we all once relied on.

Young people can discriminate between credible and dodgy sources of health information, and there simply is no longer one place to go to. But they will work out what particular brands work for them, learn to trust them as we once did, and also challenge them as I’ve sometimes been challenged by Dolly Doctor readers.

We will need to ask them what they find most helpful, what they believe, how they put it all together to get the answers they need. And then learn how best we can travel some part of their journey with them.

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